A Gemellion

About AD 1250-75
From Limoges, France

A gemellion is a basin used for washing hands, either before or after dining, or during the celebration of the Christian Mass. The word derives from the Latin, 'gemellus' for twin. Gemellions were made in pairs so that water could be poured from one basin over the hands and caught in the other below. One basin of the pair is fitted with pierced holes on the interior and a spout on the exterior, allowing the flow of water. The water was generally warm and scented with herbs and spices.

This copper alloy gemellion is decorated in polychrome enamels. A central roundel is surrounded by circular reserves, all showing fabulous beasts in combat, alternating with heraldic shields. The reverse is engraved with a series of interlacing, curved bands, terminating in fleurs-de-lis. At the centre is a shield containing a rampant lion.

Although many gemellions show combat scenes, depictions of courtly life and heraldic motifs, they were used in both a liturgical and secular context. The armorials are likely to be decorative rather than relate to a specific family or institution.

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More information


J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)


Diameter: 22.700 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1878,11-1,11-12


Gift of Major General A. Meyrick


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